Two Rabbis in a Parking Lot

Image: Rabbi Suzanne Singer and I took a very awkward selfie while we watched over the polling place for Election Protection. 11/8/2016

I was all set to write an elegiac post about my day working at the polls in Georgia. I spent the day sitting in parking lots, 150 feet from polling places, smiling and watching for people who were distressed.  My first shift was at a place where things ran properly and there wasn’t a lot to do (which is the best possible scenario.) At the second place, in the evening, I was helping at a poll where there were some small issues, but everything was resolved. There was beauty in the sight on so many people, rich and poor, brown and white, educated and not, each completely equal in that moment of casting their vote.

I met some wonderful people: pastors in Macon, folks who drove down from Atlanta to help, rabbis from all over the country. I forgot to bring business cards, so we exchanged emails so that we could stay in touch.

Then I drove off, to this hotel just south of Atlanta, because I have an early flight. I watched the election returns in this hotel room.

I spent the day with one America: a diverse group of people who banded together to protect the rights of citizens. I’m a lesbian, a Jew, a rabbi, a woman, and I’m white. I chatted over lunch with a white Christian pastor and an African American Christian pastor, and we made friends. We don’t agree about everything (we found a few of those things while we were chatting) but we can work together despite the differences.

Then tonight I saw another America: an America that chose to elect a man for President who talks about rounding up Muslims, who has been endorsed by the KKK, who has breathed new life into white supremacist organizations. He gave speeches in which he dog-whistled anti-Semitic tropes. I don’t think he actually believes many of the horrible things he said to get elected, but he appealed to the lowest impulses of my fellow citizens and they chose him.

I commit to reaching out: reaching out to all the people I know who will be panicked about this election. I’ve already sent notes to Muslim friends, to some transgender friends, to others I know who are feeling vulnerable. I don’t know exactly what lies ahead, but I know that we will need one another.

 

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Georgia on My Mind, Pt2

Image: A landscape just off I-75 south of Atlanta. Photo by Ruth Adar, 11/7/2016

I’m typing this in a hotel room in Macon, Georgia. As soon as I finish this, I’m off to bed, because tomorrow is Election Day and a good volunteer nonpartisan poll monitor gets her beauty sleep!

I’ve been through training and orientation and meditations and prayers with other rabbis. I have wonderful support from the folks at home, especially from Linda.

Two old friends were kind enough to host me for teaching my online class Sunday afternoon. That was a first: I’ve never taught it “on the road” before.  I was afraid that if I waited to travel on Monday, I might arrive so stiff and pretzelly that I’d be useless at the polls. But never fear: all is well. I’m as limber as I usually am, which is not very, but it will do.

One unexpected pleasure: the autumn colors are still in the trees. They are past their peak, but I haven’t seen these hills in the fall in so long that I think they’re beautiful.

I hope that tomorrow is peaceful. I rather doubt it, but we can always hope, right? I think of the vote as a sacred right, and I want everyone to have theirs. It’s only fair.

[For an explanation of what I’m doing in Georgia, and why Jews regard voting rights as sacred, read Georgia on My Mind, posted last week.]

Halloween Hospitality

Image: Candy bars by Alexas_Fotos on pixabay.com. 

There’s a big bag of candy in my refrigerator, so it must be the week of Halloween.

Before I was Jewish, Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. I loved wearing a costume, and I loved handing out candy at the door. After I became a Jew in my 40’s, it took me a while to sort out what I was going to do with Halloween.

My thoughts went like this:

I love Halloween! I am not going to give it up!

Halloween has its roots in both pagan practice and Catholic practice – it’s not for Jews.

— But I love Halloween!

Halloween is a holiday when we basically license people to do mischief – not very Jewish!

— But I love Halloween!

We have Purim for costumes, without the whole “trick or treat” protection racket.

— But I love Halloween!

… and so on.

I had no problem whatsoever letting go of Christmas, partly because it carried some bad memories, and partly because the religious aspect of it was quite real to me. Halloween was a lot harder to give up, because I had a lot of great Halloween memories, both as a child and as an adult, and its religious content was not as immediate to my experience.

However, I could not escape a simple fact: It isn’t a Jewish holiday, and there are things about it that are simply not right from a Jewish point of view.

After a lot of years of study and thought, I’ve decided to celebrate Halloween as a time for hospitality. I don’t dress up. I don’t decorate. But the kids who come to my door know that they can depend on me for some really high-quality candy – stuff that they like, or can trade to others for things they like more.  And I let my non-Jewish friends know that they are welcome to bring their children by for a safe treat. I admire their costumes, I hand out the goodies, and it’s a day of goodwill all around.

Come Purim – look out! You never know what crazy thing I’ll wear!

RavAdar
Who IS this guy?

 

The Legacy of Justice Louis D. Brandeis | Rabbi Ed Bernstein

Image: Judge Louis Brandeis in 1915. Library of Congress. Public Domain.

Rabbi Ed Bernstein has written a wonderful article about one of the giants of American Jewish history. I want to share it with you, both so you can read it but also to acquaint you with his blog.

https://rabbiedbernstein.com/2016/09/09/the-legacy-of-justice-louis-d-brandeis/

The Stealth Rabbi Strikes Again

Image: Nine Jews demonstrating against Trump’s racism. Three people in this photo are rabbis – can you tell which ones? Photo courtesy of Bend the Arc, a great social justice organization.

If you say “rabbi” to most people, the image that comes up is a bearded man. I don’t look like that rabbi.

Actually, I look like my grandmother: Irish-American, round, soft, motherly, maybe grandmotherly. My haircut (a buzz cut) disrupts the effect a bit, but it doesn’t make me look more like that mental image of a rabbi. I usually wear a hat, which might be a kippah (looks like a rabbi) or an A’s baseball cap (not so much.)

As a result, I often surprise people; I’m a stealth rabbi. “What do you do?” someone will say to me, as Americans do, and I will reply, “I’m a rabbi.” If they identify as Jewish, this may produce a panicked response:

“Oh! I’m Jewish. Well, I’m a bagels and cream cheese Jew, you know, not religious. Seinfeld. …” And then they will tell me why they haven’t been to synagogue, or what’s wrong with synagogue, or who drove them from synagogue… I listen. Usually it’s a long speech.

They think I’m going to pass judgment upon them, and I’m not. Depending on the story, I’m sad that Jewish community didn’t work out for them, or appalled at what drove them away. Mostly, I’m sad that they have no idea what Judaism is for; their Jewish identity is a ball and chain they drag along through life.

What I’d like to say to them, if we had longer for a real conversation, is this:

I’m not here to judge you. As a rabbi, it’s true, I sometimes function as a judge, but only in very limited situations. Mostly I’m a teacher, because learning is at the heart of Jewish life. So relax: I’m harmless!

Would you like to take that ball and chain, and turn it into something a little easier to carry around? Maybe into a walking stick, something to support you when you are tired and afraid? Or maybe into a beautiful box of treasures, an inheritance of marvels?

All you need to do is open your mind and heart to learn. You pick the topic: what’s bugging you about life? There’s are several Jewish approaches to it, I promise you. Or, if you are really adventurous, what about Judaism bothers you? Let’s look critically at the tradition, and find new bits of it. Let’s debate! Let’s play with it, have a good time!

There’s the wide world of social justice work that Jews have been doing forever. There are great organizations just waiting for you. Whatever is your passion, you can pursue it as a Jew, with other Jews, amplified far beyond your social media or letter to the editor. You can tap into the riches of the tradition to support you in that work, too.

If food really is at the heart of Jewish identity for you, let’s look at that. There’s more than bagels out there for you to enjoy. There’s the myriad of Ashkenazi and Sephardic cuisines, and Middle Eastern food. There are chef/scholars like Michael Twitty, who explores the places where African and Southern and Jewish foods intersect. There’s Tami Weiser, who will give you beautiful recipes and invite you to think about them.

My role as a rabbi is to be a resource. I have spent years cramming my head and heart full of Torah, and learning the sources so that I can make them available to you. Some rabbis, congregational rabbis, create and maintain environments where Jews can be Jews – where you can be Jewish. Not all those environments are like the synagogue you remember. Some rabbis are chaplains, committed to hanging in there with people who are suffering. I’m a teaching rabbi: I am here to help you learn.

And yes, we’ll have bagels.

A Prayer for Love

Image: Hands folded on a prayer book. Photo by voltamax via pixabay.com.

There is no place for hate in American society, if we are truly a nation “of liberty and justice for all.”  We are a nation committed to the concepts:

  • that every person has a right to the free exercise of their religion
  • that every person has a right to speak their mind
  • that every individual is innocent until proven guilty
  • and many other rights secured by our Constitution and its amendments.

There is no place for hate among the Jewish people, because we are commanded to love those who are most different from us. (Leviticus 19:34)

The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:34

 

This Shabbat, we are in shock from the events of the week just behind us. We have seen hateful carnage. We have heard hateful words.

Some of us, in our shock, in our fearful response to fearful events, have said hateful words.

We have had strong reactions, spoken strong words, spoken up for dearly held beliefs.

In the quiet of Shabbat, let us release our fears and open our hearts.

Let us choose to see the face of the Other with compassion and a recognition of the divine spark within.

Let us repent of all speech that failed to meet the test of love, and resolve to do better in the week ahead.

May the peace of Shabbat bring us to wholeness, to wisdom, to a fearless commitment to the principles we hold as citizens and to the mitzvot, the commandments, we observe as Jews.

And then, as the holy day passes, may we face the future with renewed strength and calm.

May we comfort the mourners and heal the wounded. May we resolve to speak words of love to the face of hatred, because love will always be stronger than hate.

Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. – Song of Songs 8:6

 

 

A Voice from North Carolina

Image: The Black Mountains of North Carolina. Public domain.

Rabbi Stephen Roberts is a colleague and dear friend who wrote a guest editorial for the Boone, NC newspaper, the Watauga Democrat. It appeared on the paper’s website today.  I share it because the situations of lesbians, gay men, transgender persons and bisexuals in North Carolina and Mississippi are much on my mind and in my prayers.

To my Christian readers: I ask that you read this thoughtfully, prayerfully, and consider sharing it.

To all my readers: I welcome discussion, but please as always keep it kind.

– Rabbi Ruth Adar

Jesus’ Teachings Conflict With State Law

As a rabbi, I have always viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a rabbinic colleague of mine from two millennium ago. While studying at seminary, I wrote my 125 pages rabbinic thesis on his words: “The Lord’s Prayer.” He is referred to as “rabbi” 16 different times in Scripture Christians call the “New Testament.”

In Mark 12:31, Jesus, the rabbi, taught: “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” In Judaism, our similar teaching by the Rabbi Hillel, of the same period, is: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

What then would Jesus do in the following case: Jesus, I and your own pastor/priest/reverend are out to dinner. We have ordered and are about to be served. The owner of the restaurant comes over to our table, and in front of your clergy and Jesus, I am told I will not be served. Further, I am asked to leave and told not to return. The reason given is that the owner had found out I was gay and he did not serve “queers.” I ask you: “What would Jesus do?” Would he agree with this person? I think Mark 2:15 provides the answer. Jesus, the rabbi, would fight for the right of each person in North Carolina — no matter how they are viewed by those around them — to be able to eat a meal in a public facility without having to worry about the discriminatory refusal of service — as can legally take place today here in the state.

I ask you further — what would Jesus do if he and I came to your town to teach about the Lord’s Prayer. When we went to register at the hotel, I am told by the manager that they will not rent me a room because I was gay. Further, he was going to call every hotel in the region and alert them to my being gay so that I would not have a room anywhere in the area. Mark 12:31 makes it clear that Jesus would be horrified that this was both allowed and legal.

Time and time again, Rabbi Jesus went against society to protect those on the margins. He spent his life working to keep them safe, to make sure they were treated well — no matter if society saw them as “sinners.”

Today, here in North Carolina, the state I work in as a rabbi by serving a congregation, I can be refused service and also be removed from any restaurant in the state because I am gay. It is not against the law. Today, here in North Carolina, I can be refused service at any supermarket, pharmacy, gas station, just because I am gay. I can be fired from a job. I can be refused admittance to a college. I can even be denied health care services from hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and nurses.

To treat me this way, to discriminate against me, as someone Jewish is illegal. However, to treat me this way as someone who is gay — is completely legal in North Carolina. The state legislature just passed House Bill 2 and the governor signed the bill, keeping this discrimination the law of the state.
I am left to ask each of you: “What would Jesus do?”

Rabbi Stephen Roberts, MBA, BCC

Rabbi Roberts’ family have deep roots in the Appalachians. He and his family have summered here for more than five decades, he has immediate family that are year-rounders and he is in his third year serving a congregation in the region.